Strategic Treasury

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Head2Head: Listen Carefully... You May Learn Something The latest Head to Head column highlights the importance of listening to your customers' feedback in order to build and sustain successful relationships.

Listen Carefully…You May Learn Something

By Bruce Meuli, Global Transaction Services Advisory executive, and Jonathon Traer-Clark, Head of Strategy, Global Transaction Services, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Jonathon Traer-Clark

JTC One of the themes in our last Head2Head was listening, which reminded me of a piece of advice I received from a leader in a prior role. He said, “You have two ears and one mouth – use them in that ratio”. We’ve discussed relationship management before, and the importance of developing a regular, trusted dialogue between corporate treasury and its bankers. But that’s only one avenue of communication between banks and treasurers.

Bruce MeuliBM Did you ever take that leader’s advice? In all seriousness, banks have conferences, forums, journals, peer groups, surveys and the like to hear about what treasurers need and the challenges they face. And of course treasurers can move their business too – which is a form of feedback in itself, albeit quite a final one. Which do we consider the most effective?

JTC I’m listening…

BM Well, they certainly all have their uses – but as you expressed as a case in point – it’s not only what’s being said that matters, it’s who’s listening, and for what purpose. As a bank, we need to be mindful of the total client experience and seek feedback from servicing, sales, products etc. It’s not lost on me that whilst our business is founded on transactions – whether trade, FX, card, payments or receipts – they represent the output of a relationship.

JTC Still listening…

BM That relationship can be very deep and extend across the full spectrum of banking services – corporate, investment and so forth, so many treasurers have multiple points of interaction across the bank. And let’s not forget that banks also provide services to other financial institutions, which in turn support the corporate community. With all these interfaces, it’s important to understand that both communications and indeed feedback, can be multi-faceted and may not necessarily be relevant to every product or division. You can speak now!

JTC Phew! I like the expression ‘total client experience’. If we agree that both parties (the bank and the corporate) are partners in that experience, then it should be bilateral at the engagement level too. For me forums, surveys and the like are ways of requesting general views and feedback, whether on behalf of a bank, industry body, technology vendor, consultancy or other supplier to the treasury profession. When I worked in corporate treasury, my team and I received multiple requests for feedback on behalf of a variety of organisations, including banks.

BM How did you approach them? Did you respond to them all? I think there can sometimes be a tendency to view satisfaction surveys as a forum for complaints. The more cynical could argue that a survey response is only as good as your last negative interaction or event, or it is predominantly one person’s view, or that direct ‘apples to apples’ comparison can lead to confused outputs…

JTC I think we need to first recognise that surveys happen for a reason – companies are seeking information, visibility and insights in general terms across a customer segment or industry. Secondly, feedback should be balanced appropriately. As in your individual performance review, the objective is to be candid, give praise (where warranted) and direction. So to answer your question, as a general rule yes, we tried to respond to as many as we could. We also shared our responses across the department, to remove any personal bias. 

BM I like the idea of survey sharing – that sounds like a great solution particularly when you receive multiple questionnaires at the same time. We know that treasurers receive surveys from lots of different sources, but from a bank perspective, we monitor the frequency of these closely to avoid placing undue requests on customers.

JTC Just as importantly though, is it always clear what happens with the results? To quote another leader, “feedback is a gift”, which means twice as much effort should be made to listen as to respond, but there needs to be an outcome.

BM Ah – the listening! I’ll use your analogy from personal performance reviews – specifically where feedback on individuals is sought anonymously. Whilst rankings against numerical scales can give you an overall league table, the commentary tends to give more of a theme. Personally I find scales and rankings are limited, but the rationale behind the score is of more interest. 


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